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Foodborne Pathog Dis. 2019 Mar 8. doi: 10.1089/fpd.2018.2567. [Epub ahead of print]

A Clonal Shiga Toxin-Producing Escherichia coli O121:H19 Population Exhibits Diverse Carbon Utilization Patterns.

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Produce Safety and Microbiology Research Unit, Western Regional Research Center, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Albany, California.


Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) serotype O121:H19 is one of the major non-O157:H7 serotypes associated with severe human disease. Here we examined population structure, virulence potential, and metabolic profile of environmental STEC O121 strains recovered from a major produce production region in California and performed comparative analyses with STEC O121 clinical isolates. Multilocus sequence typing revealed that sequence type (ST)-655, a common ST in clinical strains, was the predominant genotype among the environmental strains. Phylotyping placed all STEC O121 strains in B1 group, a lineage containing other major non-O157 serogroups of STEC. Genes encoding different subtypes of Shiga toxin 1 and 2 were detected in O121, including stx1a, stx1d, stx2a, and stx2e. Furthermore, genes encoding intimin (eae) and enterohemolysin (ehxA) were detected in a majority of environmental strains (83.3%), suggesting that the majority of environmental STEC O121 strains are enterohemorrhagic E. coli. The STEC O121 strains with the same genotype were clustered together based on the carbon utilization pattern. Among the 122 carbon substrates that supported the growth of STEC O121 strains, 44 and 35 exhibited lineage (ST) and strain-specific metabolic profiles, respectively. Although clinical ST-655 strains displayed higher metabolic activity than environmental ST-655 strains for several carbon substrates, including l-alaninamide, 5-keto-d-gluconic acid, 3-O-β-d-galactopyranosyl-d-arabinose, α-ketoglutaric acid, and lactulose, a few environmental strains with the enhanced metabolic potential for the above substrates were detected. Variations in curli biogenesis and swimming motility were also observed in ST-655 strains, suggesting that phenotypic variants are widespread in STEC. Considering the ecological niches that STEC colonizes, increased metabolic potential for plant-derived carbohydrates, mucus-derived substrates, or secondary metabolites produced by the indigenous microorganisms might have been selected. Such traits would confer STEC competitive advantages and facilitate survival and adaptation of STEC population to a given niche, including infected humans.


; Shiga toxin; carbon utilization pattern; curli; enterohemorrhagic (EHEC); phylogroup; serogroup O121; swimming motility


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